The Los Angeles County Museum of Art called to us over the mountains — partly because it is the museum through which Steve Martin roller skates in his movie L.A. Story, but also because it is stuffed to the bursting point with, oh, all kinds of stuff. For example, there on the bridge connecting two of LACMA’s seven or eight buildings are banners directing you to two of the many current art exhibitions you can choose among: The left banner touts photos from Vanity Fair; the right banner points towards a roomful of the objets d’art we’re meant to imagine sealed up in those crates in the last scene of Citizen Kane (i.e. the Hearst Collection).
There’s more to see and linger over than we could possibly take in during one visit, so we’ll be returning as often as the Fates allow. More stuff, too, worthy of posting about in this web log than your patience would endure, so we’ll point out only two or three Neat Things per entry.
The most remarkable LACMA experience so far has been the [insert extreme approbative here] Pavilion for Japanese Art. You go to the top via elevator as at the Guggenheim in New York, and (also as at the Guggenheim) you wind your way down a gentle ramp. Unlike at the Guggenheim, the ramp is not spiral, but convoluted. It branches past wide “tokonoma,” or display shelves. The natural lighting comes through translucent walls designed to resemble shoji doors. This main section of the exhibit was a display of Edo period painted screens. Words fail to describe them, but photography is prohibited at this current show, The Age of Imagination — private collection — so for illustrative purposes we’ll have to make do with this fierce tiger banner. Also on display — in more ordinary, non-ramped galleries — were contemporary Japanese ceramics, groovy ancient armor, hanging scrolls, netsuke, cloissoné and, well, just about everything Japanese but Sony PlayStation 2™.
The American art collection included some old pals like Robert Henri and Abbott Thayer, but here’s the only snapshot we took in that building: a monumental acrylic painting by David Hockney, which we like mostly because of its title: Mulholland Drive, the Road to the Studio.
This glaring thing is but one of many pictures we took of the inviting outdoor sculpture — or “installation” — by, of all people, performance artist Chris Burden. The work, Urban Light, is made up of 202 refurbished antique streetlamps. They’re set in tight ranks and files like soldiers or trees in an orchard. At night they light up.
The overall effect is uplifting. You take away a feeling of cheerfulness. Knowing the artist — past stunts include having himself crucified on the roof of a car — we doubt whether this was his intention. He probably meant Urban Lights to be a searing indictment of… oh, fill in the blank. If so, he failed. It’s jolly.
When we first saw it last week, a couple of classroomfuls of third or fourth grade kids on a field trip were dashing around the forest of poles laughing and screaming. They had exactly the right spirit.